October 25, 2022 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

GOP to white midterm voters: we’ll save you the effort of competing with people who are putting in twice the effort.

What the Times’ value-free vernacular tells us.

From the Times.
From the Times.

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The Times is virtuosic not only for its ability to bring us news from around the world, but for its ability to talk about the politics of white power without mentioning “white,” “power,” “politics,” “the” or “of” in any combination – or those benefitting from its built-in advantages. 

In the absence of a vocabulary that might otherwise accurately characterize the political landscape that we inhabit, it invented a value-free vernacular to do two things: avoid talking about the white people who are most afraid of losing their built-in advantages to the rise of liberal democracy; and two, avoid talking about, to any serious degree, the real consequences of what they will do to protect them.

If there is a way of saying that white people in Fort Bend County, Texas, are prepared to go to war with liberal democracy in order to protect the political advantages built into the politics of white power, these three quotes, in order of appearance, are the closest we’ll get. 

Case in point is a news report published in the Sunday Times with this hed – “Their America Is Vanishing. Like Trump, They Insist They Were Cheated” – and this dek – “The white majority is fading, the economy is changing and there’s a pervasive sense of loss in districts where Republicans fought the outcome of the 2020 election.”

The content of the piece is familiar. White people feel anxiety about changes to the American national character. Those changes are rooted in demographics, economics, religion and culture. But the details of the story, which I’m not bothering to recount, are not important compared to its broad contours, which are this: white people don’t like change so they’re voting for the Republicans.

But “change” and “loss” and “the economy” – as well as “working class” and “middle American” and “non-college voter” – are words in the Times’ value-free vernacular, that others replicate, that obscures who is doing what to whom. For that, we must turn to the pull quotes, as we journalists call them. Here they are in order of appearance: 

  • One: “In Fort Bend County, Texas, things are changing.” 
  • Two: “Mosques and Hindu temples draw thousands, farmland is giving way to suburbs and some Republicans feel their county is becoming more like majority-minority Houston.”
  • Three: “Once predominantly white, Fort Bend has quickly become one of the most diverse places in the country. Its congressman is an outspoken denier of Donald J. Trump’s defeat.”

If there is a way of saying that white people in Fort Bend County, Texas, are prepared to go to war with liberal democracy in order to protect the political advantages built into the politics of white power, these three quotes, in order of appearance, are the closest we’ll get. 

That is, unless an authoritative source of spells it out. 

Because they are more vulnerable, disadvantaged or less educated, white voters can feel especially endangered by the trend toward a minority majority, said Ashley Jardina, a political scientist at George Mason University who studies the attitudes of those voters. 

“A lot of white Americans who are really threatened are willing to reject democratic norms,” she said, “because they see it as a way to protect their status.”

Actually, that’s close but not close enough.

The face of liberal democracy’s enemy is white.

Perry Bacon doesn’t go that far, but the Post’s columnist has come the closest, as far as I can tell, to naming names. Most Republicans are white, he wrote recently. White people dominate the electorate. Most white people, by way of supporting the GOP’s assault on democracy, and are doing so without being held accountable by the press. Bacon: 

Because white people are likely to be the majority of voters for at least two more decades, America is in trouble. Across the country, GOP officials are banning books from public libraries, making it harder for non-Republicans to vote, stripping away Black political power, aggressively gerrymandering, censoring teachers and professors and, most important, denying the results of legitimate elections. The majority of America’s white voters are enabling and encouraging the GOP’s radical, antidemocratic turn by continuing to back the party in elections. 

It’s not, as much of our political discourse implies, that the Democrats have a working-class or Middle America or non-college-voter problem. The more important story is that America has a white voter problem. And there is no sign it’s going away anytime soon.

An apparent counterpoint is that white people are not afraid of losing the built-in advantages of white power so much as afraid of the rising costs of energy, groceries and so on. These are much-talked about “kitchen table” issues that are always presented as if they have nothing to do with the political landscape that we all inhabit.

Economic issues are cited, by the far right and far left, as reason for Donald Trump’s election and the rise of redhat fascism around the country. But when you look closer, even “race-free” concepts like inflation and “being left behind” are rooted in white power politics. 

Kevin Seefried and his son Hunter were sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday for their role in Donald Trump’s attempted paramilitary takeover, on January 6, 2021, of the US government. Kevin Seefried became a household name after a photo circulated of him carrying a Confederate flag into the US Capitol.

Jeremi Suri recounts the moment in the introduction of his latest work of American history, Civil War by Other Means

Like many others in the mob, Seefried brought his son, Hunter, to the insurrection. It was a proud moment for a father who had spent many of his years in and out of work, living in an economically depressed area two hours from the Capitol. He and his son were taking back their country, showing that they could make a difference, standing up for fellow working-class families who felt forgotten. They would not accept a president elected by nonwhite voters. The Confederate flag was their battle flag.

It’s here that we get to the real meat of the issue – the real reason white people are prepared to abandon liberal democracy in order to protect their precious privileges built into our political system. 

It’s not that they love their country. It’s not that they love the Constitution. Their opposition to liberal democracy, and all that it costs them politically, does not rest on positive principle. 

It rests on laziness.

Most white people don’t want to compete. 

They don’t want to compete for jobs, for resources or for political representation in a republican government of, by and for the people.

They would rather use their already existing advantages to get out of working harder in the public square, the marketplace of ideas or a truly fair and level political economy. The Republicans are saying, in effect, vote for us. We’ll save you the effort of competing with people who are putting twice the effort into participating in a democracy.

That’s what truly frightened them after 2008.

“Sussex County, Delaware, where the Seefrieds resided in a rundown house, fit the pattern,” Suri wrote in Civil War by Other Means

This rural region of chicken farms entered a tailspin that triggered higher crime and drug dependence, lower incomes, and diminished expectations for the future. Everything seemed to be going the wrong way, and the election of the first African American president in 2008 only made things feel worse. Barack Obama symbolized an emerging country that the Seefrieds believed they could never enter. They lacked the education and pedigree to compete in a multiracial meritocracy that promised so much for some, leaving many others out. Obama’s diverse supporters were winning, while the traditional white families in Sussex and other rural counties were not. The Seefrieds felt like losers (my italics).

Liberal democracy’s white-faced enemy is lazy. 

That doesn’t mean they will fail in the coming congressional elections. The white-faced enemy has many things on its side.

Even the Times.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

1 Comment

  1. Dan Rahm on October 31, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Thank you for your deft articulation of concepts difficult to admit, or sometimes even face

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